The Delhi high court on Wednesday asked the Centre to respond to a PIL seeking annulment of certain provisions in the juvenile law, including those that spare minor convicts from life imprisonment and death penalty.
"Issue notice to respondents (the Union ministries of Parliamentary Affairs and Law and Justice). Put up for hearing on February 14," a bench of Chief Justice D Murugesan and V K Jain said.
Additional Solicitor General Rajeeve Mehra appearing for the Centre said, "So far as the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) Act is concerned, I will have to take instructions and so far as the other prayer (seeking harsher punishment for rape) is concerned, a committee has already been constituted to look into it."
The counsel for Shweta Kapoor, a Supreme Court lawyer who filed the PIL, said various provisions of the Act, including section 16, require to be held as ultra-vires as it prohibits a juvenile above the age of 16 years from being awarded life imprisonment and death penalty.
The PIL also highlights the alleged contradiction in various provisions of the Act which allows a juvenile convict to go out of a special home after attaining majority.
The Act provides that delinquents, above 16 years, shall be kept in special homes away from other minors and the period of detention would be of three years, while another provision says that a juvenile can only be kept at the special home till he attains 18 years of age.
"In other words section 16 envisages a different class of juveniles who have committed an offence of serious nature and cannot be kept in the special homes. Therefore subsection 1 of section 16 (1st part) of the Act is ultravires...," it said.
The PIL assumes significance in the backdrop of the December 16 gang rape and murder of a 23-years old woman in Delhi in which the probe indicated that the minor, 17, was allegedly the "most brutal" among the six accused.
The minor accused in the gang rape case was 17 and half year old at the time of incident and would come out of special home, if convicted, after attaining majority. He can neither be kept with minor convicts at a special home nor can he be sent to jail with adult convicts.
"The very fact that gruesome acts and heinous crimes have been committed by a number of juveniles between the age of 16 and 18 years would show that certain provisions of the Act are ultra-vires the provisions of the Constitution of India in view of the fact that unequals have been clubbed together and given the same benefit though the same benefit cannot be given to the class of juveniles between the age of 16 to 18 years who have been found involved in heinous and grave crimes," the PIL said.
"A person committing a serious crime after attaining the age of 17 years and 364 days cannot be treated differently from the person who commits the same crime after attaining the age of 18 years and one day," it said.